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Estimating the threat posed by the crayfish plague agent Aphanomyces astaci to crayfish species of Europe and North America — Introduction pathways, distribution and genetic diversity

  • Invasive species often have a significant impact on the biodiversity of ecosystems and the species native to it. One of the worst invaders worldwide is Aphanomyces astaci, the causative agent of the crayfish plague, an often fatal disease to crayfish species not native to North America. Aphanomyces astaci originates from North America and was introduced to Europe in the midst of the 19th century. Since then, it spread throughout Europe diminishing the European crayfish populations. The overall aim of this thesis was to evaluate the threat that A. astaci still poses to European crayfish species more than 150 years after its introduction to Europe. In the first part of the thesis, crayfish specimens, which are available in the German pet trade, were tested for infections with A. astaci. Around 13% of the tested crayfish were clearly infected with A. astaci. The study demonstrated the potential danger the pet trade poses for biodiversity through the import of alien species and their potential pathogens, in general. In the second part of the thesis, the A. astaci infection prevalence of crayfish species in wild populations in Europe was tested. While the stone crayfish, Austropotamobius torrentium, showed high susceptibility to different haplogroups of A. astaci, the narrow-clawed crayfish, Astacus leptodactylus, was able to survive infections, even by haplogroup B, which is considered to be highly virulent. In the last part of the thesis, A. astaci was traced back to its original distribution area of North America. While the crayfish plague never had such a devastating effect on crayfish in North America as it had in Europe, the reasons for the success of invasive crayfish within North America are not yet fully understood. It is possible that A. astaci increases the invasion success of some crayfish species. Several populations of the rusty crayfish, Orconectes rusticus, in the Midwest of North America were confirmed to be infected with A. astaci and a new genotype was identified, possibly indicating that each crayfish host is vector of a unique A. astaci genotype, even in North America. Overall, the present thesis provides evidence that A. astaci is still a major threat to the crayfish species indigenous to Europe. Crayfish mass mortalities still occur in susceptible crayfish species like A. torrentium even 150 years after the first introduction of A. astaci. While there are some indications for increased resistances through processes of co-evolution, the continuous introduction of crayfish species to Europe threatens to cause new outbreaks of the crayfish plague through the parallel introduction of new, highly virulent A. astaci strains.

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Author:Jörn Panteleit
Subtitle (English):introduction pathways, distribution and genetic diversity
Referee:Ralf Schulz, Japo Jussila
Document Type:Doctoral Thesis
Date of completion:2019/04/24
Publishing institution:Universität Koblenz-Landau, Campus Landau, Universitätsbibliothek
Granting institution:Universität Koblenz-Landau, Campus Landau, Fachbereich 7
Date of final exam:2019/01/17
Release Date:2019/04/30
Number of pages:170
Institutes:Fachbereich 7
Licence (German):License LogoEs gilt das deutsche Urheberrecht: § 53 UrhG